Obviously a story about famous spoilers will contain spoilers, so if you don’t want pieces of famous media ruined for you, turn back now. However, most of the things spoiled are so universally known, you’d have been living under a rock for the past thirty years to miss them.
Thanks to technology, one can order the latest season of The Office on DVD, download his favorite songs and look at grotesque pictures of human depravity in the same amount of time it takes to toast an Eggo waffle. But the rise of the Internet also came with plenty of downsides for the human race, chief among them the ease with which movies, TV shows and books could be “spoiled,” or have important plot points revealed months before their actual release. Though the art of destroying surprises had existed long before the World Wide Web, this new communication tool allowed any blogger or forum-goer to dash a fan’s hopes much easier than before.
Spoiling illustrates two of the worst aspects of humanity – insane obsession with a piece of fiction and taking assholish pleasure in destroying another’s enjoyment in the name of laughs. Just think back to the final Harry Potter book – on one end, super-nutty fans would disown an acquaintance if they even hinted at Hermione’s fate, while total jerks viciously ruined the book for Potter fans from behind stupid message board avatars. Some spoilers are bigger than others; I shall honor the ten biggest of all time below. And remember: Don’t yell at me if something gets ruined for you, you’ve been thoroughly warned.
10. “It was Earth, all along….”
Two spoiler-related things that aren’t actually spoilers: People freaking out over tiny and irrelevant details (“Don’t tell me what color Jack Sparrow’s bandanna is, you ruined my movie-going experience!”) and dudes writing stuff like “Uh, you know the Titanic sinks in the end lol,” on message boards while anxiously refreshing Maddox’s webpage. The ending of the original Planet of the Apes is as perfect as a spoiler can be, being both a legitimate surprise and also central to the plot.
It’s also one of the better spoilers from its era – as opposed to no duh moments like “Godzilla beats Gigan” or “It’s implied that James Bond has a lot of sex.” NRA head-honcho Charlton Heston’s Statue of Liberty discovery still stands as one of the neatest twists in a sci-fi film, and a plot point that, if known beforehand, is capable of ruining the entire experience for a new viewer. This movie’s placement on this list doesn’t acknowledge the newer, updated version of the film where Lady Liberty is replaced with a bizarre scene at the Lincoln Memorial where Honest Abe is more like Honest Ape.
Cultural Impact – One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on TV, ever.
9. 24 and Lost. Every twist and turn.
I have never seen an episode of 24 or Lost. Maybe one day when I run out of lists to compose, I’ll watch them. They must be good since every fan of either show with access to the Internet treats them like holy writ. These shows rely on big twists and surprises, from “who’s gonna die/explode” (24) to… stranger fare (on Lost, a “monster” roaming the island turns out to be a polar bear, and nobody knows why). Regardless of what loony plotline is revealed, don’t dare talk about it online (or near anyone “just getting into the series”) without warning the masses or else you’ll ruin the whole series for some newbie. Both shows rely on big, out-of-nowhere moments, and that’s the stuff spoilers are made of. Anyone with remote interest in either series may very well flip out and stab you repeatedly if you ruin anything for them. This never happened with Married with Children.
Cultural Impact – More and more shows trying to use “didn’t see that coming” moments to be good television, plus more and more show fanbases acting fanatical about series. Have you ever talked to a House fan?
8. The Usual Suspects – DAMNNN!
The only film I won’t spoil, because the surprise is that good. The Usual Suspects rarely receives the same type of attention as the other pieces of media on this list, which is a shame as the conclusion to this film is much more unpredictable. So once you get that Sociology reading out of the way (or before), watch The Usual Suspects and you’ll see what I mean.
Cultural Impact – Sadly, not much, as this film (and spoiler) isn’t honored enough to make any huge impact on culture. I think Family Guy referenced it once, but if you can find me something from the past thirty years Family Guy didn’t reference, I’ll buy you a crepe.
7. The “Who Shot Who” Plot
Not all spoilers have to be big events; they can seem so unexciting and lame, a hardcore fan may become disheartened after the reveal. Television series often fall prey to this, hyping up plots to keep viewers interested from season to season, only to have the revelation not live up to expectations.
One of the biggest TV shows of all time, Dallas, did this back in 1980 with the famous “Who shot J.R.?” plotline. The question became a cultural phenomenon somewhere between “Wassup!?” and “Where’s the beef?,” appeared in everyday conversation and was plastered over merch, including “I shot J.R” t-shirts. All this build-up meant that the real end couldn’t be that great. If you’d told a casual fan that J.R.’s sister-in-law shot him, he probably would’ve been disappointed with such a pedestrian end. The Simpsons parodied this cliffhanger with the “Who shot Mr. Burns?” saga, which kicked up similar mass interest. Then everyone found out Maggie did it. People expect hyped reveals to lead to big dynamite-level surprises, not “whatever” moments. Spoiling something like this is akin to telling a kid Santa Claus doesn’t exist. On Club Penguin, no less.
Cultural Impact – Cliffhanger endings becoming en vogue on TV.
6. It’s the sled, people
The granddaddy of spoilers: The discovery at the end of Citizen Kane that “Rosebud” isn’t a lost love or a family member, but a sled. One of the first (and definitely one of the most discussed) spoilers in cinema, it’s also the most over-referenced and over-analyzed moment in movie history. Really, it’s just his sled, and it isn’t that hard to figure out what it represents. But film freaks treat it like one of the most shocking twists since “the Earth revolves around the sun,” devoting way too much time to a pretty basic metaphor. Then again, they could write a 20-page essay on what Donnie Darko is about, when I can sum it up in two words (TIME TRAVEL). The “Rosebud” revelation may be one of the original instances where prior knowledge ruins the whole movie, but its significance is a tad overblown.
Cultural Impact – The first big-time movie spoiler ever, and often the first thing ruined for people about the movie.
Korean revenge flick Oldboy stands alone as a swell movie about getting even and beating people up with a hammer, but the best part comes near the end when anyone unfamiliar with the movie is nauseated by the big surprise. This is the type of spoiler that not only blows half the film’s fun (finding out the protagonist is unknowingly bonking his own daughter), but will ruin the joy of watching your pals staring dumbfounded at the screen, likewise stunned that the otherwise cute love story is actually a terrible tale of incest. People usually unload spoilers on other, more naïve folks for the pleasure of watching them suffer, and Oldboy’s shock offers a lot more enjoyment than your typical spoiler.
Cultural Impact – Not much, though your friends may think you are a sick freak for doing this to them.
4. “I see dead people” + Seeing Bruce Willis = Bruce Willis is dead
M. Night Shyamalan is defined by his films’ twist endings, though most of them are utter garbage. I mean, the “surprise” in The Village sucks so badly everyone who saw it should be allowed the chance to slap Mr. Shyamalan across the face. But even with Lady in the Water on his resume, Shyamalan does have one great film with one great twist under his belt: The Sixth Sense.
By now most people know what said surprise is: Bruce Willis is a ghost only tot Haley Joel Osment can see. But when the film came out in 1999 this spoiler was a hot topic, and many people shunned any talk that would give away the ending. Of course, when people don’t want to hear something, other people are bound to do their best to say it.
Cultural Impact – The first film with a big, ruinable ending during the Internet age, and so a precursor to the flurry of spoiling we see online today.
3. Snape kills Dumbeldore
The most famous spoiler of the Harry Potter series. A week before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince hit stores, a page from the book leaked online, touting the above info. This marked a historic moment in Internet history – a large chunk of people started using this information to annoy the Harry Potter community. Trying to avoid this valuable piece of info was near impossible, as meanies all over plastered it on message boards, web pages and Wikipedia. Very few made it to release day unscathed (I was among the spoiled masses). And now a large group of people revel in others’ misery, a trend still raging online. The fact that people avoid the Internet completely prior to a big release to avoid stumbling across spoilers shows just what kind of impact this had.
Cultural Impact – The Internet becomes an angsty, mean teenager. Plus, this video.
2. Optimus… noooo!
Nowadays, everyone knows who Optimus Prime is, whether from an ironic t-shirt or that little movie he was in over the summer. Back in the ‘80s, people still recognized the shapeshifter, but he was relegated to the realm of nerd-dom. But how the dweebs loved Optimus! So when The Transformers: The Movie came out in 1986, and rumors that Optimus Prime would die started spreading, most couldn’t believe it. Until they saw the movie, and then found out that Optimus does in fact meet his end.
A truly great spoiler, whether it be something ripe for spreading from person-to-person or a surprise moment in a film, catches people off-guard, and they don’t immediately buy into it. Optimus Prime’s death came out of nowhere, and legitimately could ruin the film for a fan (especially considering Optimus dies near the beginning; what fan wants to watch that?). Though “Megatron kills Optimus” never became that big of a deal in more mainstream culture, it’s one of the biggest shocks in nerd-culture.
Cultural Impact – The geeky version of Bambi’s mom getting shot. Except Bambi’s mom couldn’t turn into a freight truck.
1. I am your father
Ask anybody born before 2000 (and probably a fair amount of kids born after) who Luke Skywalker’s father is, and I guarantee the majority will respond “Darth Vader.” As Ms. South Carolina demonstrated, a lot of students in this country may not know their geography well, but give them a test asking “How are Luke and Darth related?” and they will get a perfect score. You’d think that, since it’s referenced so often in our lives, babies just come out of the womb knowing the Dark Lord of the Sith fathered Luke.
Yet this is without a doubt the biggest spoiler of all-time. Today, everyone outside of sperm have heard it, but when Emperor Strikes Back first opened in 1980, Luke’s Maury-like moment was a total surprise. There are no hints in the original Star Wars that the two are related, making the revelation that much more stunning. Imagine having someone ruin this for you just before you enter the theater – the biggest cinematic surprise of all time spoiled. But I’m sure this happened when the film first came out. Happens with every big twist.
Darth Vader’s parenthood came out of nowhere, in one of the biggest films of all-time, and is still relevant today. I can’t think of another fact this good that’s capable of ruining your cinematic experience.
Cultural Impact – Do you watch anything?